11 Aug
  • By Bhavna Shyamalan

Survivors Find Their Path

We just left Benin, Nigeria, where we completed our visit to Pathfinders Justice Initiative (PJI), an organization led by the dynamic R. Evon Idahosa.  PJI seeks to eradicate modern day sex slavery (sex trafficking) and the exploitation of women and girls in the developing world through judicial reform, empowerment and community transformation. 

We began our journey by meeting with a group of sex-trafficking survivors, some of whom were gracious enough to share their stories and describe how Evon and the PJI team helped them to start their lives again with renewed hope.   One embodiment of that hope came in the form of a delicious cake brought to the meeting by two survivors who are now pursuing careers in baking and catering.  They were incredibly proud to share their creation with us, and seemed quite confident about their newfound path in life.  In that moment, I really wished I wasn’t gluten free!

We also visited a skills training center and a site for a shelter, called the Anchor, which was built to provide a temporary home for the survivors after they return and while they are trying to pick up the pieces of their life.  Evon was able to successfully run the shelter for a year, but unfortunately had to suspend operations due to lack of funding.  She needs to raise money to get it back up to operational standards, and ideally aims to raise enough to guarantee it will remain open for at least two years.  Evon knows just how critical it is to assure these women some semblance of stability.

Our last stop on the visit with PJI was to a small, but quite productive dress shop started by another survivor.  Her clothes were beautiful and her face shone with pride as we poured over the designs she had created.  While the day challenged our emotions, our time at the dress shop was a hopeful note on which to end our visit.     

This particular foundation trip is different for me in an important way.  I have brought along my two older daughters, and it means so much to me to experience this with them and to show them parts of humanity and life people around us don’t normally get to see. I want them to live with eyes wide open.  I have never been one to shelter my kids, or to coddle.  Some may feel I am too harsh or cold in that way, but I have always wanted them to know what’s real and what’s relative. I want them to be aware, to be courageous and strong, and to be moved enough to want to make a difference. During these foundation trips, we are exposed to some of the darkest aspects of life, and the experiences can be deeply painful.  But we are also exposed to a lot of hope; kids that show such resilience, women that show such courage and strength, and leaders who emerge through pure dedication and tenacity to positively impact the lives of their community members.

Wherever there is dark, I’ve learned there is also light. Maybe that is why I do this work.  Maybe I need to find and discover light and know there is hope, and find a way we can all be a part of it.